A 25-year-old woman who joined the Islamic State during the Syrian uprising says she became disillusioned by the militant group's brutality and defected.
The woman, who calls herself Khadija, told CNN she grew up in Syria and was teaching elementary school when she began attending peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad.
But when the uprising unraveled into violence, she was lured to join the extremist group by a Tunisian man she met online. The man assured her the Islamic State was not a terrorist organization, but that the war necessitated violence.
"Everything around us was chaos," she said. "The regime, barrel bombs, strikes, the wounded, clinics, blood — you want to tear yourself away, to find something to run to. My problem was I ran away to something uglier.
"He would say, 'We are going to properly implement Islam. Right now we are in a state of war, a phase where we need to control the country, so we have to be harsh.'"
The woman's cousin was living in Raqqa with her husband — himself a member of the Islamic State — and invited her to join the al-Khansa brigade, an all-female police force that enforces the extremist group's rules for women.
"At the start, I was happy with my job. I felt that I had authority in the streets," she said. "But then I started to get scared, scared of my situation. I even started to be afraid of myself."
It was with al-Khansa that she witnessed the group's extreme violence firsthand, including a beheading.
"The worst thing I saw was a man getting his head hacked off in front of me," she said.
When her commander began pressuring her to marry him, her fear boiled over.
"The foreign fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry," she said. "There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence.
"So it was at this point, I said enough. After all that I had already seen and all the times I stayed silent, telling myself, 'We're at war, then it will all be rectified.'"
Khadija says she left the group last month — days before the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes began — and was smuggled across the border to Turkey, where her interview with CNN was conducted.
She's speaking out now, she says, because she wants to prevent women like her from joining the Islamic State militant group.
"I don't want anyone else to be duped by them," she said.